Mining companies are now faced with difficult choices when it comes to refurbishing or creating new infrastructure to power their mines. There is now a much greater choice of hybrid and renewable generation options and making choices on these options can often be influenced by utopic ideas and great marketing, sometimes at the expense of common sense.
Hence, the question pops up on what renewables to introduce and when is it best to introduce them. The continuing price fluctuations (mostly declines) and technology improvements make the choice of renewables a moving scale, whereas in comparison, conventional power plant equipment (gas and diesel) appears to remain steady and constant.
Renewables should at least be on the menu for mining companies by now and not dismissed in concept development or investigation phase studies. By the time the actual construction contracts are signed, the chance of renewables being more affordable and technologically more reliable is extremely high. Looking back over the last five years in Australia alone, the interest of wind, solar and Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) technologies in mines has grown exponentially.
There is a simple process to follow in order to identify if, and what, renewables may be suitable for your project or site.
|1. DEFINING BOUNDARIES:|
|3. ENABLING TECHNOLOGY|
|6. BUILD FOR THE FUTURE:|
The steps above provide a mining company with a preliminary assessment of renewables. The current industry view is to consider renewables as an “add on” to conventional power. The future of hybridization, however, is believed to consider replacing not only fuel but also capacity requirements. Whilst it is early days for miners to rely on renewables as part of their base load capacity, the future looks towards this possibility. In this case, the capital investment wouldn’t include the conventional generation + solar + BESS for instance, but it could include a hybrid of renewable technologies which would displace new investment in conventional power. The hybrid system is likely to include a variety of renewable technologies.
Focusing too heavily on technologies that are “hot” at the moment may distract you from other opportunities. We strongly recommend that when considering renewable generation, that you complete a thorough review of each available technology following the simple process above. Obtaining specialist advice on all technologies is a must.
By Joep Vaessen, Manager Power Engineering and Technical Director, GHD